Food culture and taking control of cravings

Food is really magical isn’t it? It can taste so good, sublime even. A bite of a certain food can immediately transport you to a moment from childhood, or a savored vacation. A group meal can reunite distanced relationships and strengthen camaraderie. Discovering a shared favorite food can feel like a secret club or discovering a soul mate.   A good meal can recharge the body for the next day’s work, or wipe away the memory of a tough day. Food can also be a distraction, an anchor, or a numbing agent.

A food’s structure is complex. There is texture, taste, smell, and appearance. The combination of these qualities, right down to the chemical structure of a food’s scent, stimulates various parts of the brain. Even temperature plays a critical role in how we experience food. Have you ever taken a bite of leftovers and felt disappointed, only to reheat the dish and be thrilled at how good it tastes? Or think about ice cream. Ice cream that is too cold is rock solid and getting any flavor takes a bit of mouth work. Let the ice cream sit a while and it becomes semi-solid, melty. Ice cream is the world’s most beloved food because it is quite literally explosions of flavor in the mouth. As the ice lattice structure melts, fat and sugar globules are released into the mouth and each moment brings another wave of flavor.

Given all of this, it’s no surprise that we as a culture are hooked on food. This can be positive, as food can be our energy, our medicine, and a bonding experience. However,  the food of today isn’t as mother nature intended. There is more processing, more sugar, more addictive artificial flavors and practically zero effort required to attain it. We are not just surrounded by food, but by addictive food-like products. And this is exacerbated by our culture and media. We are shown sexy models chowing down on a cheeseburger, but also expected to be a size 2. Men are supposed to be able to drink a six pack while also maintaining one. That, or be proud of their dad-bod. (Which, by the way, is not innocuous. Excessive abdominal fat specifically is associated with higher risk for heart and metabolic disease.)

I have had many people ask for diet advice or help with their relationship with food. The most common reasons are

  • emotionally eating (depressed, bored, anxious, insecure, angry, sad)
  • compulsion to eat
  • wanting to lose weight but ‘lacking discipline’
  • binge eating or over eating
  • needing to celebrate with food or ‘reward’ oneself
  • inability to pass up free food or not finish their plate
  • feeling compelled to take too much food
  • fear of getting hungry or not having food

My first slice of advice boils down to remembering that food X isn’t going anywhere [in our first world country].

You, your sig fig, and your friends will have dozens more birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and holiday parties. Collectively, you will have hundreds more celebrations in your life time.

5 star restaurants will continue to have mind-blowing food, the pastry shop on the corner will continue to have double chocolate chunk cookies, and fast food, froyo, bread, cheese, and every other delicious food will continue to exist.

Really, it’s not going anywhere.

If you have health goals involving avoiding such foods for a while, or reducing them for the long term, do so by eating nutritious meals comprised of real, whole foods. In the process of losing weight or hitting your goals, your taste preferences will certainly change.

If a craving hits, remember that nothing is forever, and these foods are not going to suddenly cease to exist. Stick to your guns, and keep in mind that once you reach your goal, if you really want a slice of pizza or ice cream cone – you can eat it! Ideally, in moderation and on occasion. By that time, these items may no longer seem like ‘food’ so much as they seem like indulgences or addictive food-like substances, and they might not have the powerful pull that they once seemed to have.

The view from a post med school interview run 

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The view from a post-interview-run cab ride to the airport 

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We all do it.But we don’t need to do it all the time.

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5 thoughts on “Food culture and taking control of cravings

  1. I love reading your blog! To be honest it deserves a lot of the credit for my improved post college eating and exercise habits and looking at food as medicine. I also love your photos living in my hometown (Bay Area) ! 🙂 Keep it up!!

  2. Hey Lauren…..Good article. I surely did sugar binge over the holidays and paid for it with an achy body in January. I’m working on giving up sugar and wheat at the moment. Oh…and I switched to Chobani Greek yogurt and add Coconut oil to it and blueberries

    Could you please add me to your blog?
    Thanks. .. Jan

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